Expert's View

Reg Jones

We’re now past the late in the calendar year period when there is a higher amount of activity regarding federal employee benefits than usual.

The end of year rush to retirement is over and the paperwork of those who elected to leave is—however slowly—being processed. Also, the annual benefits open season ended in early December; changes made during that time in the FEHB health insurance and FEDVIP vision-dental insurance programs—or decisions to make no changes—are now in effect.

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However, life happens. Some of what the government “life events” offer you options for your benefits regardless of whether you are an active employee or a retiree, and regardless of when they occur. And in some cases you’ll have to act quickly or else an opportunity will be missed.

With that in mind, starting this week we’ll look at four such events: marriage, the birth of a child, divorce or death. This time, I’ll focus on marriage.

Health insurance
On marriage, you can change your Federal Employees Health Benefits enrollment category if already enrolled. For example, you can change from self only to self plus one to cover your spouse or a dependent child, or self and family if you need to cover more than one eligible family member. If not already enrolled, you may newly enroll.

These changes can be made between 31 days before to 60 days after a marriage; otherwise you’d have to wait until the next open season annually from early November through early December. Instructions are at www.opm.gov/healthcare-insurance/healthcare/plan-information/enroll.

Other insurance
If you are enrolled in the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance program (FEGLI) you can increase coverage upon marriage or if not enrolled, may newly enroll and choose among the options. In particular, you might want to elect coverage on your spouse (and any children) under the Option C family coverage option. This must be done within 60 days or else the opportunity is missed; the FEGLI program has only rare open seasons. The form is at www.opm.gov/healthcare-insurance/life-insurance/reference-materials/publications-forms/life-insurance-election.

Also, if you have a FEGLI designation of beneficiary form on file, you may want to change that designation. For example, as a single person you might have designated your parents; that will remain in effect unless you change it. If you have not filed such a form, your spouse becomes the beneficiary by default under a standard order of precedence. You make a beneficiary change by submitting a new a Standard Form 2823, found at www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf2823.pdf.

You also may newly enroll, or add your spouse and any children to an existing enrollment, under the Federal Dental and Vision Insurance Program, which you do through the Benefeds portal at www.benefeds.com.

Further, on marriage your spouse becomes entitled to apply to enroll—whether or not you are enrolled—in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program. If your spouse does this within 60 days, only a shortened form of underwriting applies; if after, full underwriting applies. Application for this program is made through www.ltcfeds.com.

Survivor annuity
As a married employee, you are required by law to provide a full survivor annuity for your spouse when you retire, unless he or she agrees in a notarized writing to a lesser amount or none. Under CSRS that amount can be as high as 55 percent of your annuity entitlement or as low as $1 a year. Under FERS, the default is 50 percent there’s only one lesser amount: 25 percent. The form needed to designate a beneficiary is Standard Form 2808 (CSRS) or 3102 (FERS). They are at www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf2808.pdf or www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf3102.pdf.

Note: If you marry after you retire, it’s entirely up to you to decide if you want to provide a survivor annuity for your new spouse and in what amount.

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